Shula Wary of Southern Miss

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula began his weekly media gathering Tuesday by reviewing his wounded-list, which has grown longer each week for the Crimson Tide. The latest loss to the Bama football squad was Ray Hudson, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury against Kentucky.

"Ray Hudson will undergo surgery today and he will be out for the remainder of the season. Ken Darby will start in his place," Shula said Tuesday.

"Spencer Pennington will start at quarterback. Keith Brown, hopefully, will be back this week. "We'll see how he does in practice. He looked good Sunday, when we had our light workout. Our team is a little beat up right now, but the focus is good. Everyone feels a lot more confident after getting a win."

With the loss of Ray Hudson on top of the loss of Brodie Croyle three weeks ago, Alabama is without most of it's offensive firepower. Things are drastically better on the defensive side, with Juwan Garth healing from an injured shoulder the major injury. Garth's return is in question for Southern Miss, but Shula said his shoulder is progressing better than expected.

"(Garth) is going to work in non-contact drills today and we'll see how it goes," he said. "Hopefully we'll get him more involved tomorrow."

"As far as our team dealing with injuries, I think our guys have done a great job that way - just focused in on each guy doing their job a little bit better, they haven't really made a big deal of it," Shula said.

"There's nothing we can do about Brodie (Croyle), there's nothing we can do about Ray (Hudson), so the mindset has got be 'Hey, let's move on, the guys that are here, it's a great opportunity to step up and we're the guys that can do something about weekends and game days.'"

Southern Miss (4-0, 3-0 C-USA) is the highest ranked team Alabama has faced in 2004. The Golden Eagles are ranked 24th in the coaches poll and 25th by the Associated Press.

"This is probably the best Southern Miss team Alabama's faced in a while. It's a better team than last year," Shula said. "(They) play solid defense and give you a lot of looks offensively even though their starting quarterback is out."

The Golden Eagles will be without their number one quarterback Dustin Almond, however, who had a hamstring injury late in USM's game with Houston last week.

Almond became the starter at USM after his relief performance against Alabama a year ago when he threw for a game-high 196 yards on 16-of-28 passing. Almond entered the game midway through the second quarter, taking over for freshman starter Damion Carter, who completed 5-of-8 for 29 yards while in the game.

The Golden Eagles won 10 out of 11 games with Almond under center, with their only loss coming to Utah in the 2003 Liberty Bowl. Last year, Almond replaced Damion Carter, this year the roles will reverse, with Carter getting the starting nod for the first time this year.

""He's got more experience now and looked very good in overtime (against Houston)," Shula said. "The options, misdirection and the screens are going to give them the opportunity to be a high percentage offense and still give them a chance to make some big plays.

"Their offensive line is probably one of the most productive lines we've seen. They work very well together. (Southern Miss does) more on offense than they did last year and we're not sure if that is going to change with the new quarterback."

Shula was also impressed with Southern Miss's special teams play. "They've always been known for their special teams with their coverages, their returns," he said. "They've got one of the best returners in the country, one of the fastest in (John) Eubanks, so they bring a lot to the table and they're well-coached."

Shula described the Southern Miss defense as opportunistic, an important factor considering Alabama has had seven turnovers in its two losses.

"They've got good personnel, they've lost a couple guys that were good players on defense and other guys have stepped up," Shula said. "Boley is one of the better linebackers we'll see all year and very physical and athletic, gets to the football and makes a lot of plays. Defensively they've had a lot of turnovers; I think they've got nine interceptions in four games so I think they're very opportunistic that way."

Shula said he'll rely on Spencer Pennington to manage the game as well as he did a week ago in Lexington.

"The game last week he was probably the best I've seen him in the few times that he's played," Shula said. "He just had a real good look in his eye, seeing things well and very positive, and I think he played that way, too. We're going to need that obviously, each week."

"This game is so crazy," Shula added. "Week to week you've got to be able to play with the mindset that you're going to make good decisions, sound decision, and not try to win the game on every play. Just push the buttons for your offense and get the ball in the hands of the guys that can make plays and keep your offense on the field. I think he did a good job of that last week but it's a challenge every week to do that."

Shula said that Marc Guillon is not completely healthy. He said that Guillon's back "seems to be feeling better."

Shula obviously didn't hand over his game plan to the media on Tuesday, but he said the squad will attack Southern Miss with whatever they feel will give them the best chance to win.

"I think Spencer, the way he played last week, he's got a lot more confidence because of it, I think we all do," he said. "I think you've got to try and have balance every week, but I think then again you have to look at what you think is the best way to attack these guys."

Shula noted the difficulty of replacing a player with the explosiveness of Hudson but said there were several ways he might try to offset the loss of the squad's leading rusher. Sophomore Kenneth Darby will earn the first start of his career in Hudson's place.

"I think Ken, in a lot of ways, is similar to Ray," he said. "Ray waited patiently for his opportunity, he played last year and contributed and helped us win some games last year and all of a sudden had his opportunity to start and got a lot more carries and flourished for the first half of the season.

"I think Ken Darby could have that same type of productivity. He's kind of waiting his turn, he's showing signs of elusiveness, speed, toughness, quickness and now he's going to have a greater opportunity."

Shula said in addition to Darby at the tailback, "we probably could see a little more of (Castille) at tailback, which means Le'Ron McClain would play more at fullback. There's a couple of more things we can do, like play two tight ends more or you might see Aaron Johns more."


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